Happy Thursday and happy belated Madaraka day!
Josephine has a great background in PR, communications, interactive marketing, social media – you name it. Plus, she has worked in a large corporation, an agency, and a startup of sorts. Therefore, she has a lot to say about the different workplaces and the shifting face of marketing and communications. Josephine now works at the Nailab, which is a startup accelerator that offers a 6 month entrepreneurship program with focus on growing innovative technology driven ideas.
Because of her work at the Nailab, Josephine has experience managing multiple brands at a time – both the Nailab itself, and the startups they incubate. She has to the create a consistent brand message for all these stakeholders – not an easy task!
- Communications & Marketing is a super dynamic field that changes everyday because of the rapid pace of social media and other interactive marketing
- People pursuing this field need to be in the business of constantly reinventing themselves and their branding/communications strategies
- Skills required: Excellent writing skills (to handle writing press releases); Excellent analytic skills (to understand based on data what content users are engaging with and appreciating); Excellent strategy skills (to understand how various media channels work together to promote a solid brand identity
So Josephine, tell me about your career journey so far.
It’s been an interesting course – I kept telling myself in school that there is no way I could have dedicated 4 years of my study life pursuing a degree in communication and not get to practice it. I had fallen in love!
My experience started off with Togo consultants where I did my internship for 3 months – it was a lot about conference management, which I knew very little of, but that is the essence of internship – to learn. It was during this process that I began to realize how the practical is so off from the theory. Communications/Public Relations is a very wide field and the big thing was that I didn’t understand as a whole what communications entailed.
I joined Gina Din Corporate communication as a client service executive knowing I was ill-prepared for the task but I love a good challenge 🙂 It was while here that I was introduced to the strategic part of communications – when you take a 360 perspective and bring together strategic communication, PR, event management and experiential marketing (mostly targeting consumers), not forgetting the segmentation of both the internal and external audiences. This was my “ah-ha” moment.
Once I understood the 360 perspective from a strategic standpoint, I could take a deeper look into how to engage different stakeholders at different levels. The proposition you have for different clients is different – the channel of engagement you use differs. This is dictated by various factors, primary being relevance.
Then I moved to communications and marketing at Equity Bank, and I was introduced to media buying. This ideally entails identifying the advertising channels with maximum impact and minimum cost. I hadn’t done that before. Media buying meant that I had to talk to people in media houses, radio stations, and other print media channels to secure an advertising slot. Then, I worked on the ad content. If it was on radio, I had to design a spot ad with the help of the station so that the tone was appealing to their listeners. That was very interesting for me – especially creating media campaigns around themes and translating that into print and electronic messages (60 second messages).
When I came to the Nailab, I began to see the value of all that I had learnt since I had to now look at the 360 from a brand establishment point of view. Nailab is an organization that had little exposure both as a brand and their primary customers, the startups. So I had to create my own strategy. To create the strategy, I had to understand the different brands I would be managing. So my challenge was that I had to figure out how to incorporate brand equity with startups as well as with the Nailab.
My previous experiences came with sufficient budgets. But at Nailab, I was introduced to the zero budget standpoint. I promise at some point I wanted out…..Who markets with no money?? I had to have a heart to heart with myself to convince myself to stay, and from that moment on, I developed my own motto – “Whatever the means, it has to work.” It has been an interesting process.
I have had to be innovative in my approach to marketing communications just like startups. For a very long time, people didn’t understand the essence of the structure of communications versus marketing. To many, they are all one and the same thing.
If you were to define PR how would you define it?
PR is more of a strategic communication process that helps build a trustworthy relationship between organizations and their desired audiences. It ultimately grows the interaction process of your product/service with that audience. PR also goes beyond what you say as an organization and you can actually rely on testimonial by a happy client/customer asserting that the “Experience” that comes with your offering is worth every minute.
What would you say your major day to day activities are?
I wake up, get to work. The first thing I do is to go through social media platforms and what the analytics are behind the posts. I also have to analyze what has been published in the mainstream media from a competitive perspective and also industry related as that helps us understand trends.
I manage Nailab the brand, as well as assist startups in creating their brand equity. One of the major things i have to do is make calls to media networks to tell them what is new and why this is of public interest. That’s media relations.
I also have to look into TechSahara, our online magazine about startups in Nairobi and ICT related business news. We started it as a platform to create a dialogue around startups and what is going on. I share a couple stories written that day on our social media to hike interest and dialogue. I also need to see if the things being published are aligning to our corporate strategy.
I never realized the strength of social media before I came to Nailab – mostly because I can do a campaign with paying almost $0.. Over the course of calling for applications for Nailab, I have only done it over social media. And every time, we get over 100+ applicants, simply from social media. That is why it is so important for me to monitor those social media platforms to make sure I either align messages to our brand (Nailab, or our startups), or speak out about something currently trending.
Editor’s note: the most important thing about social media marketing is tracking what people are clicking on! Read an article about this on our favorite social media blog, Buffer, here.
What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?
Adaptability – you need to be so adaptable. If there is one thing I have learned over the course of my career, it is that communications is not like an accounting career where everything is set and there are defined structures and methods. I mean 1+1 from a traditional viewpoint can only add up to 2 right? Communications is very dynamic.
So when I started off my career, there was nothing like social digital communications. The only thing we had was traditional channels – clients just wanted to have their stories run in the Standard, Daily Nation, etc. By the time I got to the corporate world at Equity, corporates were now talking digital because of its low barrier to entry and the interaction it offered, so I got started learning about that.
As consumers we have become attached to the brands that we use constantly and that’s why if I’m unhappy with my brand, I feel entitled to a certain degree of good treatment. Thanks to social media, I can let them and the world know I am important. Any person in communication needs to learn how to have this interaction with their virtual audience, because that could make or break the brand in a matter of seconds.
So, be completely adaptable and understand that if consumers say this channel of communication is what works – ITS YOUR JOB TO FIGURE IT OUT – and the greater questions is who is the audience on this channel and how do i speak to them in a language that relates.
Do you think PR is changing quickly over time relative to other careers?
I think PR is actually changing more rapidly than other sectors because everything is dictated by the audience. The practitioner just needs to look at behavior and adapt to that. Before, all I needed to do was get my story or print on TV and people buy – now the audience seek to understand the process so am obligated to do a Youtube video that teaches, engages and at the same time entertains so that we have top of mind recall.
So if you studied PR – structures will get defined and redefined by audience time and time again.
Editor’s note: Check out this awesome article about how to weave in social media strategy to PR strategy.
What are your biggest challenges with your role in PR?
Keeping up is so challenging! I’m one of those people that takes time to get accustomed to new things. It takes time for me to learn but I know I need to learn really fast. Sometimes I feel stuck in what I know because it works, so that’s a been challenge for me.
And with the diversity of channels of communication, figuring out how to do it all whilst keeping the message consistent for all audiences is very challenging. It really gets me thinking and makes me step out of my comfort zone. For example, if I were talking to you on a radio interview, it’s not as much about the brand, but about the experience someone has with my conversation. So I need to figure out how do I get interesting enough, but not too intrusive and also appealing enough to attract my audience.
And then I need to make sure I am tying my message to the overall message. Telling that in the most appealing way is challenging. “But I am where I am because I opted to continue learning. I remind myself everyday of things that I don’t know – so I tell myself to keep learning.”
What skills did you have to learn when you took this job?
I have refined my writing skills. To be honest, I hate writing. I love to think, and I love to develop strategies, and so I just want someone to take things from my head and write it for me. I’m my biggest critic in my writing. I usually write something in the morning and then publish in the evening because I have taken so much time reading and re-reading.
I have also learnt to be flexible. The amazing thing about being in an innovative space is that people do not do traditional like sit down and have meetings, not in this day and age when we have Skype. Skype used to be so informal, and meeting face to face was formal! I have had to learn how to adapt… I still have a challenge with this but what to do 🙂
What tech tools do you use on this job?
I learned using writing tools as well – like Evernote. I love that it’s cloud-based so I can access things over my phone, laptop, etc. So it makes it super easy for me. Project management tools like Trello, easy to track an issue and also who needs to action and if am a barrier why and how i need to clear. Its magical. But you need to pick what tools work for you – if you use too many, you will just be inefficient to a great degree. Whatever works, works.
What experience (professional or academic) best prepared you for this role?
I would definitely attribute this to my former operations manager at GDCC Carol Muthaura.
It was my first year in Gina Din and she takes me to this big government meeting where I met the Minister. So we get the list of deliverables and expectations and we are to develop a strategy and a work plan. At that point, I was coming from the mindset where the boss tell you what to do, you don’t jump until you’re told to (a product from my teachers in school). I wasn’t being proactive because I wasn’t sure that was the culture.
A week later, my colleagues ask me about progress and I gave them the magical answer “Boss lady is on it.” I’ll never forget the laughter that followed the statement. That’s when I learnt if your boss invites you to the meeting, it means you are doing everything.
And that’s what I like best about the Nailab – you figure out what to do and then do it. So I’m really grateful I was taught proactivity in the early stage of my career. It also taught me to think on my feet, you don’t cry at every crisis, you fix it. Cry later 🙂
And I think the one thing Sam always says is to just do it – make mistakes, and then learn from them. That way, you wear the face of the company, and you carry the company on your shoulders. Something i learnt early on.
When I presented a strategy from the agency, I didn’t present anything substandard because I knew it reflected on me and then the company, no one wants wants a tainted image so i learnt how to give my very best. To date i remind myself I am building me, just as I am building Nailab. If Nailab is progressing, then I am progressing!
How has this job improved your professional skill set?
I’m not a really big public speaker – but being the head of communications and marketing, I have had to speak on behalf of the brand. At first, I hated it, but then I got used to it. Over time, I have gotten more comfortable because I realize I know what I am talking about.
And networking – this was always such a nightmare. You know when you introduce yourself to someone at an event and after the niceties the cricket sounds are super loud making it even more awkward? Well, being in PR they say networking should be my strength – it never was, still isn’t. But with time, I have understood the value of my networks. So awkward silence and all engage 🙂
Also, fashioning strategic communications planning – When I started out, I used to just Google “communications strategies.” Now, I internalize the situation and create a strategy that will propel the company from point a to point x – stepping back and seeing how the audience perceives the brand – and changing it to how we want audience to see us. This way, I have learnt to immerse myself in the brand and create the character that we need to relate with the audience.
What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this position?
Wow, very good question. A lot of people have asked me that – Why haven’t you set up your own PR agency, PR is about the network etc. I had never thought about it. The thing I actually want to do the most is training – training young people to use their PR career to help enhance themselves and the organizations they work with. Also how to be adaptable enough, and how to use your tools to the maximum.
So yea, I think my next step would be from a training perspective. There is still such a low understanding of PR – and the tools we can use. ie. Email marketing, communicating with audience. Media relations is the loudest branch of PR in Kenya, but it’s not all that you get from PR. If people gained a greater understanding of that, they could be better in their career.
What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?
I think my biggest advice would be figuring out – what are you passionate about? And then asking yourself why.
When you’re younger, you can be driven by sensationalism. But when you grow older, you realize what you love. Like, I got into communications because I realized that I am driven by relating to an audience. I was always doing drama festival, poetry, music festivals. By the time I was choosing my career – my dad sat me down – I told him I wanted to do psychology – he said – you know you need to do medicine for that? Then, he asked me what I have always loved, and I was like – um, communicating with people.
So he said – ‘You don’t try to fix dogs’ legs – you have always tried to communicate through art, poetry – so that’s what you’re passionate about.’ And I thought to myself – man, this man does know me. And that’s how I got into what I loved.
Whatever career you want to get into – make sure you do an assessment to see what you are passionate about it and that you are not just listening to external influences.
Thank you so much, Josephine, for your time and insights!
For me, this interview was very helpful to understand the role of someone in communications. The thing I learned that I didn’t know before was that communication is PR, marketing, social media, and strategy all in one – at least from a managerial perspective.
If you are going to be working in a bigger company, and coming in from an entry level, chances are that you will plug into one of these functionalities – either you will be writing press releases, designing print media, managing social media accounts, etc. When you want to progress to management, you should be able to understand and/or execute on all these different functions.
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